Death in Donkey Row
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Death in Donkey Row
Perhaps Brighton’s first trunk murder
Within the space of just a few weeks in the summer of 1934 the remains of two female bodies were found in trunks in Brighton, one at the railway station and the other in a house close by. The cases were not related. The first was never solved, while the second led to one of Britain’s most sensational murder trials. But these were not the first of the so-called ‘trunk murders’ in Brighton. In 1831 John Holloway killed his wife Celia and trundled her body into a shallow grave in Lovers Walk.
Celia Bashford was born around 1800 in the pretty village of Ardingly, West Sussex. Unfortunately, due to some genetic disorder she only grew to a height of 4ft 3in with a head disproportionately large for her body and hands strangely “turned outwards like the paws of a mole.’ In reality she looked like a dwarf, and had to be placed on a high stool in order to do the washing and ironing. Unkindly described as ‘a repellent object’ it’s difficult to see just why John was attracted to her. Around 1824 Celia was in service in Brighton and met John at the Brighton Races. He was only just over 5ft 2in himself but this did not prevent him from being quite a ladies man. Unsurprisingly Celia fell madly in love with him and John, true to character, took advantage of her.
Predictably, in 1825, she discovered that she was pregnant and a furious John refused to marry her. Celia returned to Ardingly and applied to the Parish Overseers for relief for herself and her unborn child. She was a respectable woman and named John Holloway as the father of her child. The Ardingly Poor Law Authorities had John incarcerated in Lewes prison until he agreed to marry her. It took five weeks of imprisonment to get him to change his mind and they were married in Ardingly
However, once married, the Ardingly authorities ordered the couple to leave the village. Feeling trapped and increasingly resentful John took Celia back to Brighton where they entered the Workhouse for a short while. Eventually Holloway’s father found them lodgings and gave them furniture so they could begin afresh.
Sadly the child was stillborn and John took to drinking, becoming increasingly violent towards Celia when drunk. He began bringing other women into their lodgings, including his current mistress Ann Kennett, whom he met when serving in the Naval Blockade Service .
Ann too became pregnant; John was visited by the Rye Parish Overseers and he married Ann bigamously, using another name. The couple returned to Brighton to seek work and help from his family. Celia, now nearly destitute, was waiting.
John found work as a painter on the Chain Pier and Celia instantly applied to the Brighton Poor Law Authorities for relief. And in June 1831 the Overseers immediately slapped an order on John that he should pay her two shillings a week maintenance. No way could he pay two shillings a week, he only earned 3s.6d!
John’s problems were mounting and spiralling out of control, as both Celia, who still couldn’t resist his charms, and Ann were now seven months pregnant. Fearing going back to prison, he began to ponder the possibilities of killing Celia. Doubting his ability to carry out the murder on his own he enlisted Ann’s assistance.
John visited Celia in her lodging at 4 Cavendish Place, told her he still loved her and was sorry for all the distress he’d caused her and suggested they move into new lodgings at 11 North Steine Row, also known as Donkey Row. They would start a new life together and poor deluded Celia, who still loved this violent, abusive, unreliable, adulterous man agreed.
John and Celia made their way down Edward Street, he with a bottle of beer and she with a baked batter pudding. Barely talking they entered the property and on the pretext of kissing her he slipped a rope around her neck and pulled it tight. As he suspected he couldn’t manage it alone, called out to Ann who was hiding close by and together they killed the gullible Celia. John, unsure that she was actually dead, hung her body on a hook in the cupboard under the stairs.
The following day they burned most of Celia’s clothes and dismembered her body, taking her head, legs and arms and dumping them in the outside common toilet of their lodgings at 7 Margaret Street. The rest they loaded into a trunk placed on a wheel barrow, pushed it to Preston Village and dumped the remains in a shallow grave in Lovers Lane.
A week or so later on July 25th, after some particularly heavy rains, the shallow grave revealed it’s grisly secret, although it was not until August that the parish constable was called in and discovered the torso with a male foetus protruding from it.
Arrest and Trial
Ann was arrested and quickly told the police where to find the head and limbs. Holloway, who had gone into hiding, was also arrested and confirmed Celia’s story. Once the police had drained the toilet and found the remaining body parts it was over for Holloway.Tried and found guilty of wilful murder he was transferred to Horsham Prison where he confessed to his crimes and tried to commit suicide.***pic6*** He was hanged on December 21st and his body was displayed at Brighton Town Hall for 24 hours where it attracted no fewer than 23,000 spectators. It was then removed for dissection.
Lewes Assizes in March 1832 Ann was found not guilty of concealing and harbouring Holloway.
Poor Celia’s remains were interred in the churchyard of St John’s Church in Preston Road with a plaque affixed to the wall.
‘Beneath this path are deposited portions of the remains of Celia Holloway who was brutally murdered in Lovers Walk of this parish in the year of Christ 1831 aged 32 years’.
She was in fact killed in Donkey Row
Based on Trunk Murders by David Rowland
Historical Consultant David Rowland
www.amazon.co.uk/ David – Rowland